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None of us talked until we reached the street that lead to where Roseland lived. She pointed us in the direction of a steep paved hill and told us that we were almost to her home. As we passed a mint green house Roseland told us that the man who lived there owned many snakes. He sometimes would let the kids from the Ghetto to look at them. She said he had a gigantic python that he kept in a glass case that took up the size of a bedroom. Both Wendy and Angel seemed interested in seeing the snake, but I had no interest in snakes what so ever. When I was five my brother and I were playing at my aunt’s house. She lived in the small farm town of Durham that is an hour away from Ridgeville. Durham is hot and flat and dry and it is the perfect place for Rattlers. My aunt lived in this giant white farm-house that was far back away from the main road. Her mailbox was at the top of the road and it was about a five-minute walk to go and check the mail. My brother and I wanted to check the mail ourselves. It gave us a reason to get away from the grown-ups and there were some kids that live in a house that was once an old fire station. We had been trying for a week to convince these kids to let us come over so we could slide down the fireman pole that they told us was still in the house. We had been talking so much about how we were going to get them to invite us over that I hadn’t even notice when we got to the mailbox. I saw it from the corner of my eye so without even looking I turned to the mailbox and reached my hand up, but thank god my brother was looking and that he heard the rattle. Curled around the bottom of the mailbox was the hugest rattlesnake we had ever seen in our lives. It was fat and had its tail up rattling and its head was back. I don’t remember what happened after that because I was so scared that I blocked it out, but when I opened my eyes I remember seeing on of the teenage neighbor boys wheeling it away in a rusty old wheelbarrow. There was something sad about seeing its huge body tossed in the barrow with its long neck and head draped over the side lifeless and limp. My brother chased after the boy asking him if he could have it’s rattle. The boy said, no and pushed the snake up the dirt road. Before the snake was alive and huge and frightened and moving and then suddenly it wasn’t worth anything except for it’s rattle that showed how big and scary it once was. I don’t know why it made me feel sad. If it had bit me I could be dead. It was me or the snake. The river or my brother. The pills or my mother. No. It doesn’t work that way, it only works with living things facing living things.
“What’s a ghetto?” I heard Wendy ask.
“It’s what my mom and dad and all the other grown-ups call the place where we live.” Said Roseland.
“What does it mean?” Asked Angel.
“I don’t know.” Roseland shrugged. “I never asked. It’s just where we live.”
We reached the bottom to a point where the paved road curved off to the left and Roseland pointed toward a wide gravelly road to the right. We followed her along this road till we came to a large open clearing that had four houses that were in a kind of circle. In the center of all the houses was a giant garden with big leaves of vegetables. Big dark green leaves that were the size of my head with bright orange pumpkins and round yellow squash. In the center of the garden holding a green hose a very dark-skinned black woman was watering the plants. I figured that the woman was Roseland’s mother even though her mom was so much darker than her. The woman was wearing gold, brass, and copper colors. She had a long loose flowing dress that part of she had tossed over one arm so that she wouldn’t get mud on the bottom. Her neck was long and she had a pretty face and big eyes. I had never seen a black woman before except on t.v. and I had never seen a woman who looked like Roseland’s mother. Her skin was so dark and smooth and her hair wasn’t straight but round almost like a ball. I didn’t know how she could get her hair like that like it just grew that way. She was really pretty and had round cheeks and a round chin. She almost looked like a teenager. She looked bright like a flower in all the colors that were around her. She looked over at us standing in the road staring at her. When she smiled I felt warm and safe deep inside. I felt like I was in love with Roseland’s mother even though I had not even talked to her yet. I just couldn’t imagine that anyone so pretty and with a smile that nice and good could possibly be a bad person. I wanted right at that moment for her to be my mother.
“Hey, Hon.” She called over to Roseland, “These your girls?”
“Mmmmhmm.” Roseland nodded.
“Give me a second. I need to turn off this water. I’ll be over to meet your friends before you rush them off into the house.” She stepped over a giant pumpkin and walked toward one of the houses to turn off the facet and then after wiping her hands on the skirt of her dress she walked toward us. The dress bounced up like small curling waves as she walked. She stood with her hands on her hips and smiled down at all of us. “So introduce me.”
“This is my mom.” Said Roseland reaching for her mother’s arm. “Mom, this is Angel, Wendy, and Brianna.”
“Hello girls.” She bent down and gave each one of us a hug. When she held me I could smell coco-butter and fresh dirt, and plants. She smelled like the earth and she was warm. It had been almost two years since I was hugged by my mother and I didn’t want her to let go of me. I wanted to cry and have her pick me up and hold me, but I couldn’t so I let go. She looked down at me like she knew like she felt how badly I wanted her to hold me. She brushed the bangs from my eyes.
“Look how long and tangled your hair is child. You look like a hippie.” She leaned down and kissed Roseland on the cheek. “Take your friend’s into the house your dad is making lasagna for dinner. I’ll be in in a second, I need to pick the last of the tomatoes. I hope you girls like your vegetables.” She said to us.
I could see Wendy wince, but she smiled because she was too afraid to say she didn’t ever in her life eat vegetables.
We followed Roseland toward one of the houses. They were all painted white and they all looked like they were falling apart kind of like Angel’s house except instead of broken down cars in the yards there were gardens, and porch swings and flowers growing out of anything that was once broken. The paint on all of the houses were chipped and peeling, but each house had bright curtains, that some looked like sheets or flags. Roseland’s house had rainbow curtains that were made from sheets. Little kids were playing and running around the houses and some people were sitting on a porch here or a porch swing there. Music was coming out of some of the houses. It sounded like someone was playing a guitar. As we walked up the wooden steps to Roseland’s porch we could hear music coming from inside her house. The door was open and Roseland had us take our shoes off before stepping on to the thick shaggy brown carpet. It was weird to me to take my shoes off and I could tell from the expressions on both Wendy and Angels faces that they didn’t think it was normal either. Roseland skipped into the kitchen yelling, dad. The three of us stood alone in the living room staring at all the things that were in the space. Everywhere there were plants. Hanging plants, big plants with fat leaves in giant clay pots, plants with flowers, plants that climbed up the wall; it was like a garden in the living room. They didn’t have a t.v. but they had a stereo with tons and tons of records. On the walls were pictures of people who I guessed were musicians, some I knew some I didn’t. There was a big picture of John Lennon wearing a shirt that said New York. I knew who he was. My dad used to listen to The Beatles all the time. I remember exactly when John Lennon died because it made my dad cry which I thought was really strange. I couldn’t understand why this man who my father never met in his life would make my father cry just because he died. He didn’t cry as hard as he did at my brother’s funeral and he didn’t cry at all at my mother’s, but John Lennon died before both of them so maybe my dad didn’t know much about dying then. I guess I could get it now. I think I would maybe cry if Madonna died, but I wasn’t really sure. There were also other musicians like Jimi Hendricks, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, all people I didn’t know until I saw the bright red jacket with gold zippers and the matching red pants that only went to his ankles and the white socks and his black shoes. I knew that the Michael Jackson poster had to belong to Roseland. I thought it was so cool that her parents let her put up her own decoration in the front of the house. Like you just knew she wasn’t just a kid in the house, but that it was her house too.
“Look at the rainbow.” Wendy whispered.
She was pointing at a rainbow that danced on the wall over the face the man with brown hair in The Doors poster. He had his hand out and open like he was holding something and the rainbow bounced from his hand to his face. It came from a prism that hung in the large front window. There were many prisms. I had always liked prisms, but my mom had said that she thought they were kind of tacky, but she let me have a tiny heart shaped one that I used to keep in my room. My dad forgot to pack it. I knew we were in a very different kind of home. It wasn’t just that Roseland was poor. I could tell she was poor and that most things in her house were old even the record player, but I had been in the houses of people that were poor before. Wendy was poor and she lived in a trailer, and Angel was poor I could tell even though I had never been in her house before, but it wasn’t about money. My parents had money, and we had once had a really nice house. My grandparents have a really nice house, and when my family was all together we always had new things. It wasn’t about money at all it was something else it was, but I didn’t know what to call it, like everything was taken care of everything was loved.
“This is my dad.” Roseland said as she came out of the kitchen followed by a man drying his hands on a towel.
“Hi there ladies. I hope you’re hungry.” He said smiling.
I couldn’t talk for a second and I hardly heard Roseland say all of our names. Roseland’s dad was white. It suddenly made sense why Roseland was not as dark as her mother. I had never seen a black woman before, but I had never in my whole whole life even heard of a black person marrying a white person. They never showed that on television. I wondered where they came from because I knew that there was no way that they came from these mountain towns. Her father was really tall and thin and he had long long blonde hair that went past his shoulders. It was like he had a woman’s hair and I remembered my dad once talking about hippies and saying that they wore their hair long. He had asked me if I would like him to grow his hair long and I said no, that long hair was supposed to be for girls. Roseland’s dad had really long hair that he pulled back into a braid.
“The lasagnas still cooking in the oven, but it won’t be too long before we eat. Roseland why don’t you give the girls a tour our home and The Ghetto.” He kissed the top of her head and then walked back into the kitchen.
Roseland lead us to a room way in the back of the house and opened the door. The walls were covered of pictures of Michael Jackson, a picture of Ralph Macchio, and a small photo from the movie The Explorers with the only boy I’ll ever love, River Phoenix. As soon as Roseland shut the door to her room Wendy almost exploded like her brain must have been on fire the whole time we were talking to Roseland’s dad.
“You’re a half-breed too!”
Even though I totally knew that Wendy didn’t mean to say something bad, I knew she said something bad. I think Angel knew too because she didn’t say anything. In fact, all three of us were quiet while we stared at Wendy who was still grinning, but also looked confused.
“Why do you say such stupid things sometimes?” Asked Roseland angrily.
Wendy stammered a little. “I… I don’t know. I just thought, but I’m that too.”
“I’m not like you.” Said Roseland. “My parents are together. We’re a good family.”
I could tell that Roseland must have heard things like that a lot, maybe even more than Wendy.
“Go easy on her Roseland.” I said, “She doesn’t know any better. She’s not trying to be mean. It’s not her fault. You don’t know.”
“I know that is isn’t right to call someone that.” She said. She had her arms cross tightly in front of her chest.
“I didn’t mean it bad.” Said Wendy. Her eyes started to look wet like she was about to cry.
“Wendy,” I said placing my hands on her shoulders and looking into her face. “Do you like it when people call you that at school?”
She shook her head no.
“So Roseland isn’t going to like it either. Think before you just yell stuff out.”
“But I didn’t mean it like that. I wasn’t trying to be mean or stupid.” She said, almost crying. “I just was happy I wasn’t alone. I thought maybe because if we were both like that and you’re family so good that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing and that all the kids at school were wrong about me, cause if your good and great than maybe that meant I was too. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m so stupid.” She turned toward the door. “I’ll go home. I’m sorry.”
“Stop. Stop.” Roseland ran after her. “It’s okay. I’m not mad.” Roseland grabbed her hand and smiled at her. “Sorry.” She hugged Wendy.
I sat down on Roseland’s bed and pulled at a tiny thread that was coming loose on her blanket. I didn’t know why the whole thing was making me feel uncomfortable. I wish I could stop Wendy before she talked sometimes, but Roseland seemed like she wasn’t mad anymore.
“Maybe it is a good thing.” Roseland said pulling away from Wendy and looking at her. “Like we’re special. Like we have super powers or something.”
Wendy smiled and wiped a tear from her cheek.
Angel had been standing in the corner watching all of us. She looked like she was kind of uncomfortable and kind of bored. She looked over my head to something on the wall.
“The Explorers.” She gasped. “I love that movie. River Phoenix is totally my favorite. Have you guys seen Stand by Me? That movie is so good. I totally fell in love with him in that movie. I’m going to marry him.”
Over my dead body. I thought. Now she was going to try and take my future boyfriend? No way.
“I have the movie on video if you guys ever want to come over and watch it some night. It’s totally, totally good.